Housing proposed to help homeless

City asked to donate five vacant lots for apartment building

Rick Smith
Published: September 30 2012 | 5:02 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 1:15 am in
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As another Iowa winter nears, nighttime temperatures are dropping, and not everyone in the state has a warm place to call home.

“It’s been that time of year every year since I was a kid here,” says D.E. Pat Kane, 62, executive director of CrossRoads Mission in Cedar Rapids. “Is it getting worse? Yes, it is getting worse, and the economy and the recession have exacerbated the problem.”

So Kane, who also serves as a vicar at Zion Lutheran Church in Hiawatha, is pushing ahead with a plan for a building with 22 to 27 efficiency apartments, which will house homeless families and homeless veterans.

Kane has asked the city to donate five vacant lots next to the mission at 1006 Second St. SW for the $2.1 million construction project. The lots formerly held flood-damaged houses, which were bought out and demolished as part of the city’s flood-recovery buyout program.

Caleb Mason, a housing redevelopment analyst in the Housing Services Office, told the City Council’s Development Committee last week that Kane’s project would qualify for the city-owned lots. That’s because his project meets a national objective — serving low-income residents. Even so, others could compete for the same contiguous lots that Kane has his sights on at 1016 Second St. SW and 1100, 1104, 1108 and 1116 K St. SW, Mason said.

City Council member Scott Olson, a council Development Committee member, last week said he wanted to make sure Kane talks to neighbors. He said he recalled “a saga” in Des Moines in which he said a program for the homeless planned to build a new shelter in an older neighborhood, only to meet stiff resistance. It was “not a pretty sight,” Olson said.

Kane said he made a presentation to the Taylor Area Neighborhood Association, which Kathy Potts, the association’s president, confirmed on Friday. But Potts said the association has not yet been asked for its opinion on the project. Kane said he also informed the homeowner closest to the site of the building project.

Kane’s proposed building would sit in an area that includes office/service and industrial zoning, Mason said.

Kane also emphasized that his building proposal is not a shelter. Instead, it would be a three-story facility with efficiency apartments that would require tenants to pay rent. The first floor would feature community rooms, where programs for residents would be offered.

As part of the building project, Kane has created a new non-profit organization with its own board of directors called Cedar Rapids Area Subsidized Housing Inc. The acronym for the organization’s name, CRASH, was not intended to address lives that were bottoming out and ready for rebuilding, he said.

Kane’s CrossRoads Mission is just six years old, but 3,000 families in need, or more than 9,300 individuals, have registered and used its services. Those services include a food pantry that hands out 4.5 tons of food a month to more than 2,300 individuals, he said.

The mission is located in a building that includes two apartments for the homeless, and was once a neighborhood grocery near the Penford Products Co. plant.

An anonymous donation of nearly $80,000 allowed the organization to buy the building, which was damaged during the 2008 flood, renovate it and open it as a mission in early 2009, Kane said.

In addition to its food pantry, CrossRoads Mission accepts used clothing and hands it out as fast as it comes in, Kane said. The mission also has a homeless prevention program, offers spiritual counseling and has a volunteer cadre to help out.

As part of his mission work, Kane sits on the local Continuum of Care Committee, which he said in 2011 identified 300 families in need who were waiting for access to affordable housing. Many double up or triple up with other families, and some sleep under bridges and in tents in the woods, he said.

“What we’re proposing isn’t even coming close to the need in our community,” Kane said. “It’s a step forward that we feel needs to be taken.”

He said he and the project’s board of directors will seek grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help fund the construction of the apartment building. A local fundraising drive also will take place.

Housing the homeless, he said, is a good economic development tool in a city focused on bringing in new employers.

“Having citizens living on the street can’t look good when you’re taking a tour of the city,” Kane said. “It doesn’t look good to me.”

Kane, the son of former longtime Linn County Recorder Pat Kane, is retired from the U.S. Navy and worked as a Realtor in Cedar Rapids after returning to the city about 15 years ago. His ministry studies and work began in 2006.

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